Are we on the outside looking in or on the inside looking out?
Do we think that heaven or redemption or satori or enlightenment or whatever we want to call it, is, “out there somewhere,” or do we think it’s inside of us, waiting to be uncovered?
Which direction are we gazing? Inside or out? It’s a fundamental, crucial question in terms of how we approach life and our personal spirituality.
In Western Christianity, there’s no question that the focus is very much outward. Heaven, redemption, blessings are seen as things that exist but they’re not an innate part of us. Christian theology goes something like this:
“God made you in his self-image but something kind of went wrong. God is perfect, but you aren’t. In fact, you’re really, really flawed. In fact, let’s be honest here, you’re a real piece of shit. You like to fornicate and steal and lie to people and, um, eat bacon and shrimp. You’re pretty much hopeless, unless you change your ways. If you change your ways, you can eat pancakes with Jesus in heaven, and they use REAL maple syrup, not that Mrs. Butterworth’s crap. On the other hand, if you DON’T change your ways, well, God is going to have to toss you into a flaming pit where you’ll burn in agony forever. Because he loves you.”
Now, the salient point in all of that is that THERE IS NO GOOD INSIDE OF US. Whatever blessings or grace may exist, they exist, “out there,” in God, and it’s only by overcoming our basic, sinful nature that we can have any hope of finding happiness and salvation.
It’s only by becoming, “not us,” that we can get God’s approval and get into that pancake breakfast with Jesus. That sets us up for a lot of spiritual and psychological tension because, basically, everything we really like to do as human beings is a sin and sends us toward having snacks with Satan, instead of breakfast with Jesus. Everything from sex, enjoying our possessions, loving a good meal, having a nice lazy day, eating shell fish or pork, even masturbating are ALL deadly sins.
What causes us to commit all of our sins? Why, our bodies, of course! It isn’t really ME that wants to get into bed with Mary Jo and fuck like bunnies, it’s my body. It isn’t really me that wants a BLT, it’s my body. More specifically, it’s my DAMNED body. If it weren’t for my body, I could be, like, I dunno . . . Mother Teresa . . . or maybe Mahatma Gandhi, except he wasn’t a Christian so he went straight to hell, of course.
The end result of that is that we end up hating even our own bodies because the body is the source of all of those terrible impulses that cause us to sin. That’s why Medieval christians developed wonderful traditions like whipping themselves and self-crucifixion. The terrible, sinful body had to be literally beaten into submission so that it wouldn’t make them sin, or they’d end up having lunch with Lucifer or brunch with Beelzebub (also known as, “Beelzebubba,” if you live in Texas.)
It’s interesting and even a little startling to our Western minds, to compare that Christian model of spirituality with the Buddhist model. Tibetan Buddhists speak of basic human nature in terms of a precious jewel or crystal that is covered with plain rock. Our job, our spiritual quest, is to uncover that beautiful jewel by chipping away at the rock, one little piece at a time. By meditating, practicing mindfulness, and building loving/kindness into our lives, we gradually reveal more and more of the jewel, our true nature. As Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche’ put it:
“Enlightenment is not anything new or something we create or bring into existence. It is simply discovering within us what is already there. It is the full realization of our intrinsic nature.
In sharp contrast to Christian theology, we aren’t terribly flawed,”sinful,” beings. Instead, we are beings that are incredibly beautiful, holy, and wonder-filled. We just haven’t uncovered that part of our nature, that precious jewel, yet.
Our redemption isn’t, “out there,” it’s not something we’re going to find in heaven or a book. It’s very much, “in here.” It’s something that we find by looking inward, toward our true nature, by meditating, consciousness, and increasing the love in our hearts.
This isn’t to say that Buddhists don’t have their Greatest Hits list of, “sins.” They condemn anger, judging others, envy, greed, etc. But, they don’t condemn them in terms of their being a part of our basic nature. Rather, they’re considered sort of side trips that lead us away from our basic goal of enlightenment. They’re distractions, rather than definitions of who we really are.
There’s actually a major Buddhist doctrine called, “Precious Human Birth,” which not only says that we’re NOT terrible, sinful creatures, it says that if we were born human, we hit the fucking jackpot. Only human beings are able to consciously contemplate life, make ethical decisions, and improve our spiritual state of being. When we consider all of the trillions of other beings on our planet who were incarnated as insects and animals, being humans puts us in a very, very, VERY small minority. We lucked out.
It’s a major shift in thinking for most of us who were raised in the West. Our bodies aren’t sources of primal, evil urges; they are precious vessels that contain an ineffable beauty just waiting to be brought to the light. They are a gift beyond comprehension. Heaven and salvation aren’t up in the sky or hiding in a holy book – they’re in our hearts.
And if heaven is in our hearts, we are sacred. Umm . . . really? Hmmm . . . Are you sure?
The Three of Pentacles is a pretty good illustration of the two choices we can make. The stone mason stands on a stool, mallet in hand, ready to carve. Beside him there is a monk and a fool holding a plan. The monk represents a religious creed, a looking outward to others for answers to our spiritual quest. The fool represents our basic human nature, that surge of playful, happy spiritual energy that occurs when we gaze within and joyfully embrace what already exists in our hearts and souls.
We just have to understand that everything that we want to be, we already are.